Pang Ho Cheung, arguably the most talented writer and director working in Hong Kong today, swaps the gentle wit of his popular “Love in the Puff” and sequel for something considerably ruder in the aptly-titled “Vulgaria”. With Chapman To (“The Bounty”) leading an all-star cast as a producer struggling to get his film made while juggling various personal problems, “Vulgaria” is a hilariously vicious swipe at the Hong Kong industry, which earned a category III rating for its perverse themes and incredibly ripe and creative use of swearing. Local audiences certainly took to its brand of crudeness, the film emerging as one of the year’s biggest domestic hits, also notching up several nominations at the Golden Horse Awards as well as playing to acclaim at numerous international festivals.
Chapman To plays film producer To Wai, the film opening with him being interviewed in front of a lecture theatre of college students by a professor (Lawrence Cheng, “Hi, Fidelity”), sharing the strange and sordid tale of his last film. In desperate search of funding, To tells how he was introduced by his friend (Simon Lui, “Troublesome Night”) to a manic Mainland gangster T-Rex (Ronald Cheng, “The Four”), who agrees to back a remake of the 1970s Shaw Brothers sex classic “Confession of a Concubine” starring original actress Susan Shaw (now rather advanced in years). Unfortunately, T-Rex turns out to be a man with some very strange tastes when it comes to the female sex, and To is forced to commit a rather perverse act (to say the least) in order to seal the deal. Even with the film up and running, the production runs into endless problems, To also having to deal with his ex-wife (Crystal Tin, Chapman To’s real life spouse), sexual harassment claims in his office from his assistant (Fiona Sit, “2 Young”), and his budding relationship with young starlet Popping Candy (Dada Chan, “Lan Kwai Fong”).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Vulgaria” isn’t quite the straightforward gross out comedy that its premise might suggest, Pang Ho Cheung going instead for his usual brand of cutting cynicism and witty banter. Satirising the Hong Kong film and entertainment industry, the film is a blackly satirical comedy of errors, most of its quick-fire laughs coming from some amazingly creative Cantonese insults and swearing, the script packing in more profanities than anything else in recent memory. Whilst the plot meanders anecdotally, the film is smartly written and shows near perfect comic timing throughout, and thankfully although native speakers and those with knowledge of the subject matter will undoubtedly get more out of it, the fun is still perfectly accessible and likely to be hilarious for all viewers, or at least those not easily offended.
It’s worth pointing out that though the film is very rude indeed, packing in bestiality, masturbation, oral sex and a highly inventive use of popping candy, there’s no actual nudity or anything graphic, the category III rating coming entirely from its subject matter and foul language – which should underline the fact that the script really is overflowing with creative cursing.
At the same time, Pang Ho Cheung does a great job with his characters, and this helps to keep the film pleasingly grounded and observational, with an at times almost improvised feel. Far from being unwelcome add-ons, film’s romance and relationships subplot are surprisingly believable and touching, To’s odd bonding with Popping Candy in particular adding some unexpected sweetness and emotional depth. In part this, and indeed the film’s success in general is due to the excellent work by the cast as a whole, Chapman To, the gorgeous Dada Chen and Ronald Cheng all being well deserving of their awards nominations, the latter turning in probably his best and funniest performance to date. The film also gets extra marks for some very effective cameos, including Susan Shaw as herself, Hayama Hiro of “3D Sex and Zen” fame (making for plenty of self-referential category III gags) and Pang regular Miriam Yeung (“Love in a Puff”).
“Vulgaria” is easily one of the year’s funniest and sharpest films, and sees Pang Ho Cheung somehow managing to keep his long-running winning streak going. Boosted by a fantastic cast, an intelligent script and some riotous use of obscenities, it provides solid proof that there’s still life in the crazy and bizarre world of the Hong Kong film industry.
Ho-Cheung Pang (director) / Chiu-Wing Lam, Ho-Cheung Pang, Luk Yee-sum (screenplay)
CAST: Chapman To … To, Wai Cheung
Ronald Cheng … Brother Tyrannosaurus
Dada Chan … Popping Candy
Sui-man Chim … Guan Foh Lau